Developing a schedule to meet your agency’s unique needs 24/7/365 is no simple task – and while successfully doing so is an accomplishment worthy of recognition, there are still a few more steps before the finish line. While the final goal is implementation, one of the most important components is testing.
Testing a new schedule is essential, because it’s not uncommon for something to look one way on paper and a completely different way in practice. Committing fully to the transition without proper testing can lead to significant challenges that can pose a disruption at best, and create operational liabilities at worst.
When our team at SafeCities™ receives a request asking if and how an agency can test different schedule configuration, it’s typically for one of two reasons:
- Is this a hypothetical scenario you are just curious to learn more about?
- Is this a change in union agreements which needs to be implemented in a given time frame?
Understandably, the reason driving the desire for change is going to impact how we recommend testing.
Identify the reasons for change
By identifying why your agency desires a change, as specifically and detail-oriented as you possibly can, you’ll be much better equipped to establish specific goals and objectives which your new schedule must satisfy. If you just want something ‘better’, that will almost certainly be too abstract to help you reach your ideal outcome.
Additionally, take stock of what you and your employees enjoy most about your current schedule so that you can prioritize retaining those qualities. Identify departmental goals, but also ask employees about their individual goals to increase your chances of success.
Common examples include:
- Budget being blown out from overtime. This typically leads to agencies seeking a schedule that more adequately meets typical needs while being more fiscally efficient.
- Quality of life and work-life balance for employees. If the employees are asking for something that will not work or cannot be accommodated, don’t just say no. Put it down on paper and do the math and run the numbers and show them why it won’t work. Further, be open to identifying what could work, even if it isn’t as comprehensive as what they thought they wanted.
- Staffing shortages. It’s not uncommon for shortages to begin as a short-term issue that turns into a long-term issue that hasn’t been resolved, and now requires a schedule change to maximize current available resources.
Proactively address challenges
Most importantly, account for the necessary time to transition, including at least mid-term testing periods. It takes time for people to establish a genuine opinion of how the new schedule actually works, rather than carry-over opinions on how they thought the new schedule would work.
To get the most out of your testing period, do not test during your most ideal conditions – test during your least ideal conditions. Try to ensure the testing period spans a time when staffing is typically short, such as during the holidays or summer.
Create a de facto committee which includes front-line employees and not just supervisors. This ensures all levels of hierarchy have a voice at the table and feel heard – even (and especially) if not everyone gets their way. This step is too commonly skipped because it costs money or is perceived as an inconvenience to bring personnel in for a special project, and balance the associated disruptions. This is a ‘it costs money to save money’ situation, and the cost of doing this can be much greater: Employees may revolt if they don’t like how the new schedule disrupts their current one. Worst case, solicit input on a volunteer-only basis – you’ll likely be surprised at participation because people are invested in their well-being and how this will impact them.
Prepare to execute your testing
First, determine your level of commitment:
- Phase 1: Is this a curiosity that we are simply vetting?
- Phase 2: Buy in from employees, making sure it’s within CBAs
- Phase 3: Testing for human feedback and empirical data
Then, test for the appropriate amount of time. We encourage no fewer than two months, but six to 12 months would be ideal. Testing for a few weeks doesn’t give a comprehensive idea of what unforeseen obstacles could arise when you are changing the foundation of how your employees operate. Consider:
- More absences
- More sick calls
- Vacation bidding
Questions to ask before and during testing
- How will it allow you to cover your minimums? This is the most essential of all, as it will drive the overall effectiveness of this schedule for your unique operations.
- How do employees like it? Employee satisfaction matters – a lot. Don’t underestimate the value of buy-in, or what can happen without it.
- Is filling overtime more difficult or easier? You may need to go about this process in a completely different way than before – especially if you are going from an 8-hour shift pattern to 12-hours. This may not be easier or harder, but it will be different and you need to be willing to change the smaller parts of the process with equal willingness as the schedule at large.
- Are there enough people off at any given time to be able to cover a potential shortage? This will impact its convenience, efficacy, and your budget as it relates to overtime.
- Are there more or less absence requests/sick calls? This is a direct indicator of how well it’s working for your employees, and a direct challenge to the organization if a schedule is forced that does not work for employees.
- Does the new schedule require overtime to meet minimums, and how much overtime is that? This could eliminate posting overtime if it’s part of someone’s schedule, but it does need to be factored into the built-in costs.
- Be open to feedback. Ask your employees, and be willing to make changes and adjustments as needed. Remember, nothing is set in stone and this period is an investment so you can enjoy a schedule that works for your agency, not against it.
If you’re already working with the SafeCities™ team and are considering a change in how you schedule, this is something we can help with. Even if it’s just a brainstorming session – we are exposed to thousands of schedules across the country, and hear feedback from agencies everywhere on all manners of configurations. We have a lot of insight, and we’re here to help.